‘Culture of life’ ignores privacy

To the Editor:

Jacqueline Costrini attempts to negate my assertion that Congressional circumvention of our judicial system in the Schiavo case is a political game being perpetrated by the religious right. As evidence, she states that the vote in Congress was “bipartisan.” That 47 House Democrats (out of a total of 202, most of whom did not even vote on Sunday!) joined Republicans in this measure has more to do with the fact that they have been portrayed, by people like Costrini and her allies in the “right to life” movement, of wanting “to subject an innocent women to the kind of suffering that we would not allow a dog to endure.” When your political opposition portrays you as a bunch of murderers, it is not difficult to understand how some Democrats might join the other side. And for the record, if a dog were in a similar state as Ms. Schiavo, I would not advocate that its feeding tube be removed — or that it even have a feeding tube in the first palce — but that it be shot and put out of its misery.

Contrary to what Costrini alleges, the death that Schiavo will experience will not be “painful.” Many people in similar states, whether they be terminally ill or persistently vegetative like Schiavo, die in just this fashion on a daily basis in hospices and medical centers across the country. According to Dr. Sean Morrison, a professor of palliative care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine interviewed last week by The New York Times, people who die by having their feeding tubes removed “generally slip into a peaceful coma. It’s very quiet, it’s very dignified — it’s very gentle.” It is a natural death, certainly more natural than the state Schiavo is in, and has been in, for some 15 years.

More important than the case at hand is the precedent our Congress has now set. Costrini and I can argue all we like about the relative merits of this individual case. But neither we, nor any politician sitting in Congress, has a right to interfere in the private matters of the Schiavo and Schindler families. With its opposition to reproductive rights, gay civil rights, and now the right of a family to make end of life decisions, it’s clear why the religious right prioritizes the “culture of life”: It just can’t stop intruding into the private lives of other people.

James Kirchick ’06

March 22, 2005

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